Young adults in the thousands have recently returned from a year (or two or three) in Israeli yeshivas and seminaries, full of youthful exuberance and idealism. Many who planned on going to college have now decided that secular studies or employment are not for them. They want to be full time learners, or marry one.
The girls in particular see themselves as neshei chayil – they will work and be the breadwinner of the family and basically raise their kids on their own so that they can free up their husband’s time so he can immerse himself in Torah.
These naïve young ladies have what I call the Rebbetzin Akiva Syndrome. This state of mind is named after Rochel, the wife of Rabbi Akiva, a girl brought up in the lap of luxury. She gave it all up to marry Akiva, determined that her husband devote all his time to learning, even if it meant that he was away from home most of the time and she would have a very reduced standard of living. Those teachers and principals who have influenced these impressionable kids to go on that derech may genuinely feel that they are putting them on the path of true Torah happiness. But I can’t help wonder if discussions on the spiritual beauty of such as lifestyle were balanced out with a reality check.
Without doubt, sacrificing physical and emotional comfort all in the cause of Torah is a very noble aspiration, but daydreams can turn into living nightmares when reality hits. While many girls plan on emulating Mrs. Akiva, they, not surprisingly, are not made up of the same stuff.
Eventually, the day to day actuality of juggling babies, working outside the home, household chores and crises and dealing with endless, unavoidable expenses become overwhelming for many of these girls, many of whom grew up in homes where there was money to pay for bills as needed and on time. Usually there was money for hired help to keep the house presentable, and funds and time for the lady of the house to take care of her own needs.
When I was a teenager, a kallah came into my family’s shoe-store (I helped out on Sundays) and with pride and radiant eyes told me that after her chasanah – (a lovely affair that her financially comfortable parents made for her) – she was going to live in Eretz Yisrael and work while her husband went to yeshiva. I wished her well but I had a feeling that she didn’t know what she was getting into. About four years later, I bumped into her. This time her eyes were dull with weariness and her face was haggard, making her look years older than her mid-twenties. She was still the ayshes chayil – working and being for all intents and purposes a
single mother (she had two pre-schoolers and was expecting) while her husband learned.
No doubt that over the ensuing years, this girl’s parents helped her financially, but then again, she had several brothers and sisters who also wanted a learning lifestyle. While the parents who were professionals might have the financial ability to help their married children, I doubt
there was enough money to go around for the next generation when collectively, there would be at least 20-30 grandchildren. These children when they grow up – as some of them are doing – will between them likely have over 100 children. Even millionaires would have trouble paying the rent or mortgage for so many.
Some young men who are learning are doing what’s practical but unfair – they only go out with wealthier girls because parnasah has to come from somewhere, and stressed-out wives are not conducive to a healthy marriage. Thus, as a worried yeshivish father wrote recently in The Jewish Press, his outstanding daughters were having trouble getting dates because he is not wealthy. The sad part of all this is that some of these learners aren’t even genuine – they are mediocre students looking for a free ride through life.
The fact is – not everyone is cut out to handle long term struggling – and there is nothing to be ashamed about that. And those young men and women who are leaning towards a college education or business should not be made to feel that they copped out and let their rebbis/ teachers down. Ironically, these are the baalei-battim who years later have the financial wherewithal to support the yeshivas and kollels.
After the Holocaust, there was a crucial need for an infusion of Torah learning to replace that what was destroyed in Europe. Today, with Hashem’s help, Yiddishkeit has been replenished. At this juncture, as a frum doctor pointed out, getting into a Kollel should be as hard as getting
into Harvard Medical School. Only the genuine article, young men whose hearts are in learning, the creme de la creme, should be accepted into long term learning programs and supported. The free-riders should be weeded out. Seminaries should paint a realistic view of life as the wife of a learner – both the good and the challenges.
One can’t live on ideals… and the buck stops… eventually, leaving entire generations of poverty-stricken families. For the sake of shalom bayis and the well-being of our sons and daughters, it’s time for the schools to present all the possibilities so that the kids can make informed choices, without shame or guilt.
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